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Silver Efex Pro 2: Fine-Tuned Black and White Photos

Article Description

This article is the second of five that focuses on plugins for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Silver Efex Pro is Nik Software’s answer to a professional Black and White photography workflow, offering a wider range of options for controlling contrast, details, and creative toning than the standard tools offered in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. Here, Photoshop expert Dan Moughamian, author of Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques for Photoshop CS5, Lightroom 3, and Camera Raw 6, shows how the customization of three different preset types can yield different Black and White looks for your photos.
Full Dynamic (Smooth)

Full Dynamic (Smooth)

The first thing to you might notice when you apply the Full Dynamic (Smooth) preset is that it can help minimize tonal compression in the Histogram. Figure 3 shows this preset in an unaltered state. You can see from both the Histogram and the image preview that the range of tones being displayed provides for a good start.

A good dynamic range is generally worth striving for, from taking the photograph to optimizing its raw data, and ultimately working with that data in plugins like Silver Efex and Photoshop. The only exceptions might be when if want to favor the very light or dark tones with your exposure for stylistic reasons.

Figure 3 The Full Dynamic (Smooth) preset in can minimize tonal compression, providing a solid foundation for more edits.

At this point, we can evaluate the shot and tweak its tonal range using the Global Adjustments and Selective Adjustments panel, just as we do in other Nik plugins, such as HDR Efex Pro.

First, note that there are multiple control sliders within Brightness, Contrast, and Structure that allow you to fine-tune the look created by each component. Taking full advantage of these settings will help you precisely control the tones and the perceived sharpness/softness of your photo. Figure 4 shows the expanded Global Adjustments at right.

Figure 4 Remember to expand the Global Adjustments so that the full range of tonal and structural controls is available.

For this particular shot, I wanted to accomplish three things:

  • Create small regions of inky black tones in the river.
  • Create a good range of mid-tones in the buildings, bridge, and tree.
  • Avoid turning the sky anything close to pure white.

To start, I reduced the Shadows value under Tonal Protection and increased the Highlights value, and I also boosted the Dynamic Brightness value. The first two steps set the stage for the inky water and non-white skies, respectively, and the latter step acts like a fill light, intelligently brightening the mid-tone areas without blowing out the sky.

To further enhance the shot (shown in Figure 5), under the Contrast controls I reduced the Amplify Whites setting just under 50% and increased the Amplify Blacks to just over 50%, but more importantly I reduced the Soft Contrast value by about 20% from the preset value. The way the Soft Contrast setting works is that moving the slider all the way to the right (+100%) creates not a super-soft contrast, but a very harsh contrast. Moving it all the way left (-100%) creates a very flat and dull contrast.

Figure 5 To create a full range of tones without clipping skies (for example), use the Tonal Protection sliders and Dynamic Brightness setting.

Finally, I reduced the Highlights and Shadows (Structure) values to ensure that the waterfalls and darker areas were softer in their appearance, and I increased both Midtones and Fine Structure slightly to boost the detail in the brickwork and bridge. Notice that the main Brightness, Contrast, and Structure sliders maintain a value of 0. These sliders act as “strength controls” and “amplify” the sub-settings you make; however, that was not required here.

The only addition I made from this point was to add a Finishing Adjustment by choosing the Coffee tone preset (Figure 6), and then turning the strength down until the effect was more subtle. We’ll take a look at Selective Adjustments and the other panels in the upcoming example.

Figure 6 The finishing touches to the Full Dynamic (Smooth) workflow include a bit of extra color to add stylistic intent.

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